24
Nov
12

Death and Memory

Throughout cultural history, death and memory has always shared a kind of common ground. The thought of death’s inexorability drives one to reflect on the life that one has led. Or on the other hand, death also leads one to consider what he or she has left behind. This was true for the early moderns, and as Theodore Spencer writes:

The Elizabethans, in fact, seem to have dreaded nothing so much as the possibility that future generations might not know they had lived. Death had other horrible aspects, and their vivid imaginations trained on the skeleton and the rest of the inherited teaching, did not fail to appreciate them, as we have seen. But the blankness of being forgotten was of all thoughts the most tormenting. (Death and Elizabethan Tragedy, 1936)

Poetic immortality becomes a big thing in the Renaissance. We have Shakespeare:

The worth of that is that which it contains,
And that is this, and this with thee remains  (Sonnet 74)

And John Donne:

And if unfit for tomb or hearse
Our legend be, it will be fit for verse   (The Canonization)

Samuel Daniel:

These are the Arkes the Tropheis I erect,
That fortifie thy name against old age,
And these thy sacred vertues must protect,
Against the Darke and times consuming rage    (Delia, Sonnet 46)

This fascination with preservation through poetry goes way back to the Greeks and Romans, but what about today? In writing up one of my conference papers I was reminded of this classic sequence from One Piece. Check out Hiruluk’s speech from 0.17-0.51:

Is there nothing worse than being forgotten after one has passed away? Hiruluk has the answer. At 1.38, he exclaims, “This has truly been a wonderful life!”. Perhaps the most important thing is to live life without regrets, making sure that one is always thankful for the experiences life has thrown at us, for good or for ill.

For what started off as an academic post, that sure degenerated quickly!

 

 

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1 Response to “Death and Memory”


  1. November 24, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    “Is there nothing worse than being forgotten after one has passed away?” Yes, there is 🙂 Coming back to life in some form or another – a skeleton for example (see 18th and 19th century gothic), which would mean that you either lived a wicked life or died a horrible death. It is fascinating how life after death can be both attractive and terrifying.


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'horror': Middle English: via Old French from Latin horror, from horrere ‘tremble, shudder’.

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